Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Matt Theado

Abstract

Ayn Rand and her work are often ignored by feminist critics because of Rand's personal life, her views on sex, and her vehement rejections of collectivism. Feminism has moved through overlapping waves known as first, second, and third-wave feminism. Throughout its life feminism has been marked by two strands: relational and individual. The strand of individual feminism has been more prevalent in Anglo-American feminism while relational feminism has been more predominant in European feminism. Atlas Shrugged was published six years prior to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique , a text generally agreed upon as the starting point for second-wave feminism. Elizabeth Spelman's work Inessential Woman exploded the second-wave monolithic approach to feminism, thus opening the door for third-wave feminism, a feminism focused upon individualized femininity as expressed through individual choices exercised through authentic lives.

In this thesis, I argue that Atlas Shrugged , widely praised as Ayn Rand's best novel due to its capitalistic, limited government message, offers fertile ground for feministic ideas. Dagny Taggart, at first glance, comes across simply as a masculine woman. Upon further investigation Dagny questions dualisms, societal conventions, and sexual roles that have created the subjugation of various people groups, especially females. Atlas Shrugged also points out the sanction offered by victims that propagates their disempowering circumstances. Underlying these themes is the idea of authentic freedom: the freedom from restriction coupled with the freedom to achieve one's full potential. Atlas Shrugged acts as a precursor for third-wave feminism because of its emphasis upon individuality and its questioning of societal constructs. Galt's Gulch symbolizes the type of free, empowering society desired by adherents of Ayn Rand and adherents of third-wave feminism.

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